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Task Force Calls For More Private Funding Of Public Parks

Bill Rinehart

Voters could be asked this fall to renew a levy for Great Parks of Hamilton County. A task force that's been looking at the parks district is not making any recommendations about a levy, but it is suggesting other things.

Task force member Bruce Petrie says those suggestions include "robust alternatives" to public funding.

"We think that going after more corporate sponsorships, going after private donations, going after some good estate planning and planned giving, without making these parks less affordable for folks is kind of striking that balance," Petrie says. "And we think we can be more robust about that over these next ten, 15 years."

The Great Parks levy, set to expire next year, was first approved in 2002. It provides about $16.8 million every year, and accounts for about 55 percent of the parks' revenue.

Petrie says the task force is recommending a public committee be formed to advise the Great Parks board on park usage and priorities. He says things can change over the lifespan of a levy and an advisory committee can help the board adapt.

The task force says the future looks great for the parks. Petrie says that's true despite decreased funding. He says the parks board has made cuts in response.

"But we can't get our way to greatness by cuts," Petrie says. "We need public levy support, but a levy that is balanced, that takes a middle approach, (and) that understands that people want to see value."

The report does not recommend Great Parks grow. Petrie says "growth" is a loaded term, and growing for the sake of growing doesn't make much sense.

"We think that becoming great as a great park system is not necessarily the same as more, more, more," Petrie says. "It could mean making more precise and better choices about how we're going to allocate resources. It could mean do this and not that. Which won't necessarily be net growth, but it will involve some important choices."

Petrie says the report highlights the importance of keeping the parks affordable.

Great Parks is holding a series of listening sessions. The sessions started in mid-March and continue through the end of April.